- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
here’s something about Andy Richter that Middle America just can’t accept. Maybe it’s because he looks too much like somebody who ought to be watching TV rather than appearing on it, but although they could buy into him as Conan O’Brien’s talk show sidekick, he’s never been able to sustain his own sitcom for more than a season.
Still, it seemed like Fox was onto something when they signed him up for the conveniently-titled “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.”
In the show, Richter technically played himself, in that his character’s name was Andy Richter, but this version of Andy Richter was a technical manual writer for Pickering Industries. He wasn’t particularly happy with his job, however, and longed to be a proper writer. And as a result of having to maintain a strict by-the-book style for the manuals, his creativity exercised itself in other ways – such as bizarre fantasies, lots of “what if?” scenarios, and even the occasional imaginary friend – like the ghost of Mr. Pickering (John Bliss), the late founder of the company. If you’re a “Scrubs” devotee but you often find yourself wishing that the show spent more time inside J.D.’s head, except with a score that resembles Danny Elfman’s work on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” then “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” is right up your alley.
The ensemble of the show is full of appropriately quirky characters. First and foremost, there’s Andy’s boss, Jessica Green (Paget Brewster), who’s beautiful but can’t seem to maintain a steady relationship, possibly because she rarely looks beyond the outside of the package. Wendy McKay (Irene) is the gorgeous secretary on whom Andy has a fierce crush; it’s semi-mutual, too, but the problem is that Wendy’s stuck on Keith (James Patrick Stewart), who also works in the office. And can you blame her? As we see, he’s one of those guys who’s so handsome that he’s able to coast through life without doing a lick of work. Lastly, there’s Byron Togler (Jonathan Slavin), Andy’s office mate, who’s as neurotic as they come and almost as shy.
The combination of Richter’s voiceovers and the visual gags are what drive the show, letting the character’s imagination run wild – like when he considers that the sandwich guy might actually be Adolf Hitler, or wonders what he’d look like with wheels. But he’s such a schlub that he’s often considering the absolute worst case scenario for a situation, and some of these sequences are so elaborate that it’s hard to do them justice in written form. For instance, there’s one bit where Richter muses that Keith will probably die in his 90s after having had sex with a beautiful woman for three hours. When he considers his own death, however, it involves a doctor amputating his arms and legs in a failed attempt to find out what’s wrong with him; immediately thereafter, the hospital is overrun by rats, and the doctor leaves his plate of cheese on Richter’s chest before abandoning him. “And two weeks later, I’m dead,” Richter concludes.
Hmmm. Maybe I can kinda see why the show went over the heads of some viewers.
Still, there’s a reason why “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” has become such a cult classic over the years. It’s a hilarious sitcom that isn’t afraid to go way out there with its comedic premises, but it unexpectedly manages to tackle real issues on occasion (albeit in exaggerated fashion), such as when Andy has to decide how he can live with himself if he has sex with a beautiful woman who’s incredibly anti-Semitic. The solution: he helps out at a local synagogue. Oh sure, it doesn’t last, but don’t tell me you wouldn’t have come up with a similar plan if you were in the same situation. Yes, Andy Richter does look like he’d be more at home watching television than appearing on it. That’s because he’s an everyman, and that’s why “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” works as well as it does: because you can see yourself stuck in some of the same situations that he finds himself in.
Okay, maybe not the one where he makes fun of a fellow employee’s work and finds himself wearing a dog costume and playing the company’s new mascot. But still, you get the idea.
Special Features: Richter teams up with series creator Victor Fresco to provide a pair of audio commentaries, tackling the pilot as well as “Little Andy in Charge,” where Andy starts to date a woman he’d had a crush on in high school, only to find out that she’s an anti-Semite. Shame they couldn’t have chatted about “Crazy in Rio,” which guest-starred Conan O’Brien, but so be it. Also included are two new featurettes about the series (“How Andy Richter Controlled the Universe” and “What if Andy Richter Controlled the Universe?”), and if you’re a fan, then you’ll be psyched to see that the entire cast – minus the late John Bliss – has taken the time to come back and reflect on the show and its legacy, and in the “What If” segment, they all have fun mocking the hypothetical possibility of a Richter-run universe.